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Home Sales Up, But Prices Remain Soft

Fuelled by federal stimulus efforts, lower prices and cheaper loans, existing home sales in Florida rose 45 percent in October from a year ago, mirroring a national bump in sales also aided by a hefty inventory of available homes.

With median prices 17 percent below what they were a year ago, 15,160 homes were sold statewide compared to 10,444 homes sold in October 2008, according to monthly statistics compiled by Florida Realtors.

The median price of a home sold in October was $140,300, down from $169,700 a year ago. Realtors said the 9.1 percent decline continues a trend indicating the market may be leveling off.

“Both the price gap and rate seem to be closing,” said Marla Martin, a spokesperson for Florida Realtors. “We’re looking at that very closely and hoping that we will continue to see that trend.”

Sales of existing condominiums surged ahead, jumping 82 percent in October compared to a year ago. Median prices fell from $147,900 to $105,200, a 29 percent decrease. Realtors, however, said the sale of foreclosed property was artificially reducing the median price figures. A bright spot is that median condo prices increased 6.1 percent from September.

Home sales were up in all 16 municipal areas tracked by Florida Realtors. Leading the charge, sales in Fort Myers/Cape nearly doubled and prices fell by more than a third as the region continued to dig out of a housing glut. Other top markets included Ocala (up 63 percent), Orlando (up 59 percent), and Sarasota/Bradenton (up 50 percent)

Sales in Miami grew 26 percent while Tampa sales increased by 36 percent. Sales in Tallahassee increased 31 percent, with median prices holdings relatively steady. Half of Tallahassee homes sold for more than $178,800, down slightly from $180,800 a year ago.

Nationally, single-family home sales rose 21.4 percent above the 4.39 million-unit pace in October 2008, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median existing single-family home price was $173,100 in October, down 6.8 percent from a year ago.

“Many buyers have been rushing to beat the deadline for the first-time buyer tax credit that was scheduled to expire at the end of this month, and similarly robust sales may be occurring in November,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR in a statement. “With such a sale spike, a measurable decline should be anticipated in December and early next year before another surge in spring and early summer.”

Also fuelling sales are less expensive mortgages. Interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.95 percent last month, compared to 6.20 percent in October 2008.

With the federal homebuyer’s credit extended until mid 2010, Yun said that after a brief slow down in December, Realtors expect a return to strong sales early next year. Prices will also level out as available housing stock continues to shrink, especially in the lower priced tier.

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